Wallace: Federal money needs to be used wisely

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By Carol A. Clark

A substantial amount of stimulus money is coming to New Mexico. But because it’s only expected to happen once, Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, does not want to see it used for anything that requires ongoing funding.

“We will have stimulus coming in, but that’s a one year shot… Don’t spend that money for recurring items,” Wallace said during a Chamber Business Breakfast talk Thursday morning at UNM-LA.

She presented a recap of this year’s 60-day legislative session, which ended March 21.

Wallace sits on the Legislative Finance Committee.

“During the session it became apparent that revenues were down,” she said. “Taking $500 million out (of next year’s budget) was not an easy task.

New Mexico initially stands to receive an estimated $1.8 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.

In addition, funds allocated through a competitive grant process could boost New Mexico’s share to well over $2 billion.

“The funding is intended to be used by states as quickly as possible to create and retain jobs and to stimulate economic recovery from the most serious economic challenges of our times,” Gov. Bill Richardson said in a recent letter. “I have created the New Mexico Office of Recovery and Reinvestment to oversee the very detailed and time-sensitive process of obtaining the funding and to make sure it is used as intended by the federal government.”

The New Mexico Office of Recovery and Reinvestment office is comprised of an experienced group of individuals, Richardson said, who will ensure that New Mexico not only complies with every aspect of the law but that it also receives the maximum possible amount of funding.

Superintendent Mary McLeod attended Wallace’s presentation and thanked her for protecting the Los Alamos Public Schools against a proposed funding formula, which threatened local revenues.

“I’m very happy the funding formula bill didn’t go through and I’m so happy you got the 10-year hold harmless clause put in,” McLeod told Wallace. “I felt really relieved you were on top of it.”

Wallace shared credit with LAPS/Los Alamos County lobbyist Scot Scanlan, saying he did an extensive amount of background work on the issue.

Some $165 million of stimulus money is expected to be distributed to school districts through the state’s current funding formula. School districts receive allocations in July.

These funds will be used to provide fiscal relief to prevent tax increases and cutbacks to critical education services and can be used as general fund dollars for the operation of districts and schools, according to New Mexico Education Secretary Veronica Garcia.

During an April 1 conference call, she explained that New Mexico will receive over $94 million for special education that will be distributed through current school district applications.

An additional allocation of $2.9 million will be allocated for IDEA Part C, family infant and toddler program. These funds will assist in meeting the excess costs of providing special education and related services to children with disabilities.

New Mexico also will receive more than $100 million for Title I programs. These programs include resources for supplemental education funding, especially in high-poverty areas and for programs that provide extra academic support to raise achievement of students at risk.

Another $5.2 million in funds will be available for education technology and $4 million for Vocational Rehabilitation funding.

New Mexico will also be able to apply for competitive grants to enhance teacher quality and the statewide longitudinal data system, she said.

Wallace touched on the future, saying the big concern on the horizon for Los Alamos is redistricting.

“It’s coming up, not this term but the one after,” she said. “When you grow in population the growth is in Albuquerque – not so much in rural areas – but you have to take a piece of these areas. We want to keep Los Alamos whole, at least in the House. We’ll never be whole in the Senate again.”

The next census will take place in 2010.